Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Confidentiality Takes a Break

There are times when you have to question the "authorities" and "professionals" who are helping you become a better whatever you are.  Especially when they don't seem to walk their talk.

I had an extremely surreal moment today in regards to my profession.

My Chosen Profession
I am a macro social worker.  This means not a clinical social worker.  I'm not fit to do one-on-one therapy sessions with people.  I've got too big of a mouth and too expressive of a face.  In my explanation of a macro social worker, I always say, "I'm much more of a community organizer, program planner and developer type of social worker."

"Case files, Forms, and Reports Galore -- Field Work, Interviews, Phone Calls, and More. 
Never Quit Once You Start And Always Work Direct From the HEART!"

I love the profession for its variety.  For even though I'm not a clinician, I often engage in conversations that take me to that realm.  But I love that I'm able to create programs, bring tons of resources to our clients, and work so closely with kids.

But today, I really had to take a step back and reflect on my training.

While, yes, I am legally unemployed and paid a small stipend to continue working at my (virtually volunteering) job, I am still able to take a seminar for first-time social work supervisors.  Meetings are held through and at the school from which I graduated.  It's great training, really.  I get to talk with others about their experiences and feel very lucky about my relationship with my intern.

Ethics and Dilemmas
Today, we discussed ethics in supervision.

Somehow the conversation turned to the university's policies when a student needs to be disciplined.  Unfortunately, the steps the university took were taken against a great friend of mine, and it lead to him not being able to graduate. 

It felt like a huge mistake.  There were people walking that stage who didn't deserve the letters tacked onto their name.  But my friend wasn't given a full chance, perhaps because he had too much of a voice.

That was my first awakening of the fact that the Schools of Social Work don't necessarily walk their talk.  How could they be teaching us certain values and not uphold the same values for their students?

Oh, right...they're a school and university first. 

So, right...back to today.  The conversation turned to an explanation of the status review process for students.  And suddenly, I realized that the person leading the discussion was describing in detail the events that happened to my friend, and I'm talking the exact incident to the final decision.

She even included the part where my fellow classmates and I stood up against the school's decision, and wore signs on our graduation caps supporting our friend.

A tiny picture of one of the supporting caps.

This was such a surreal moment.  I chose to stay quiet.  Part of me wasn't sure how far she was going to go in the story.  Part of me couldn't believe she was talking about it with me in the room of 4.  Part of me wanted to know exactly how the university felt about the incident.

Follow Up

During the conversation, while I stayed quiet, I felt that I needed to chime in and say, "Actually, what really happened was...."  But would that have been appropriate in the location where the incident took place?  Trying to tell the other side of the story wasn't going to allow my friend to come back.  But, maybe it would have prevented the facilitator from saying more.

The more I thought about it, I realized the seminar facilitator probably had no recollection about which year I graduated.  Though, you would think that that would make you feel wary about sharing such confidential information to new supervisors as it only happened 4 years ago.  Then it makes you wonder, are they using his story as an example every year?  And if they are, they're only telling 1 side of the story!

Afterward, I spoke with my supervisor about the experience.  I told her that I felt awkward, but also didn't really know if I did the right or wrong thing or if anything could have been done.  My supervisor was taken aback and appalled at the recklessness of the facilitator.  She acknowledged that none of us should have been put in a situation where we felt uncomfortable about the content.  She questioned the relevance of my friends incident to our learning.  And she noted that for a conversation about ethics, the facilitator completely dropped the ball.

There they go again.  Not walking their talk.

Next Steps?
I'm not sure what to do about what happened.  I have 3 more sessions of this seminar, and I want to gain as much as I can from it.  I feel like I need to say something about her talking about my friends incident, but I don't really want to deal with any of the aftermath.  My supervisor encouraged me to write her an email, just stating that it made me feel awkward.

On some level, I feel like a horrible friend.  This was another chance to stand up for him, but I failed.  On another level, I didn't want to collude the story and get the other new supervisors involved in a past story.

I think that this type of activity isn't exclusive to the school I attended.  I think that all Schools of Social Work lose sight of the content of their lesson plans after so many years of being separated from the communities in which they served in the first place. 

All in all, it was a strange way to start the day.  I still have a lot of processing to do.

But, here I leave you with acronyms for MSW according to http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/MSW

Master of Social Work
Municipal Solid Waste
Microsoft Word
Mammal Species of the World
Microsoft Windows
Medical Social Worker
Modified Sine Wave (electronic signal shape)
Machine Status Word
Murder She Wrote (TV show)
Most Significant Word
Men Seeking Women
Mikheyev-Smirnov-Wolfenstein (effect; neutrino oscillation, mass)
Men Who Have Sex with Women (medical/public health)
Master Search Warrant
Mountain Spring Water
Maiden Special Weights (race for horses that have never won a race)
Mission Science Workshop
Meters Sea Water (SCUBA diving)
Main Seawater
Magneto-Static Wave
Maximum Shipping Weight
Mao Shan Wang (durian)
Minimum Squared Weight
Middleware Sub Working Group
Managed Windows Service
Manual Shift to Working
Multi-Cast with Same Wavelength
Multiple Stop-And-Wait

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